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Nat King Cole Paperback – November 9, 2000

4.5 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Pianist/vocalist Nat King Cole made everything look easy. His warm and haunting tenor voice, suave demeanor, and elegant piano style influenced dozen of singers and instrumentalists, including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Oscar Peterson, and Diana Krall. But as Daniel Mark Epstein unveils in this illuminating biography, it took years of dues-paying for Cole to reach superstardom. With prose that reads like Cole's lyrical phrasings, Epstein takes the reader through the eventful places and spaces of the artist's life: from his birth in Alabama in 1919, his family's turbulent move to Chicago, and his rise as an Earl Hines-influenced teen jazz sensation, to the formation of his famous piano-guitar-bass trio in the '40s.

Epstein doesn't shy away from the lows, describing the anguish Cole caused his preacher father, the failed first marriage, tax and health problems, sibling rivalry, and the jealousy that destroyed his combo when Cole made the transition from jazz artist to pop singer. But these are balanced with the highs, like the tremendous success of Cole's vocal hits "Straighten Up And Fly Right" "Route 66," "Mona Lisa," and "The Christmas Song," and his second marriage to Maria Ellington. Epstein also cites Cole's quiet battles on the Civil Rights front. He purchased a home in an exclusive, all white Los Angeles neighborhood; insisted on performing for integrated audiences in the south and heroically survived a vicious racial attack during a Birmingham concert in 1956. "Nat King Cole was not a political philosopher schooled in rhetoric or the dialectics of history," the author writes. "He was a clear thinker with sound instincts and compassion.... Where he had gone--to riches, fame, and honor--he hoped his brothers and sisters would soon follow." By he time died of lung cancer in 1965, his artistry had left its mark on the 20th century and on everyone who loved him. As Epstein summarizes, "[H]e paid attention to his friends, his children, his sideman, his audiences and most of all his music." --Eugene Holley, Jr. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Dulcet-toned Nat King Cole is remembered best today for ballads such as "Mona Lisa" and "Unforgettable," perhaps less so for his skills as a preeminent jazz pianist and composer. This respectful biography depicts a multitalented musician whoAwhether contending with racism, with black leaders criticizing his lack of activism or with jazz critics who believed he had "sold out"A maintained an implacable, dignified demeanor. Born Nathaniel Coles, he grew up in Chicago in the 1920s, when Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton and Gatemouth Earl Hines were helping to turn that city into a virtual mecca of jazz. Cole moved to Los Angeles in 1937, paying his dues as a struggling musician and eventually forming the original King Cole Trio. The fledgling Capitol Records recognized the commerce in Cole's liquid voice (a voice created in part, according to Epstein, by Cole's heavy cigarette habit) and exquisite style, making him a star as he and his trio moved away from jazz and embraced the pop ballads the public craved. At the height of his popularity, Cole became the first African-American to host his own television show, which, while a ratings success, fell victim to prejudice as it failed to secure a national sponsor. By the time Cole died in 1965 of lung cancer, he had become one of America's best-loved entertainers. Epstein (Sister Aimee) writes gracefully and possesses admirable musical knowledge; yet his sympathetic narrative is oddly flat. Whether because, as Epstein writes, Cole "was a master of the art of concealment" or because his personality differed little from his calm, genial and sophisticated facade, the portrait of Cole that emerges is less vibrant than his musicAthe man himself retains a regal distance. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 438 pages
  • Publisher: Northeastern (November 9, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555534694
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555534691
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #818,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is the most insightful, deeply moving biography of an American musician I have ever read. The first sixty pages is a gripping account of how the sixteen-year-old Nat Cole, wunderkind jazz pianist, found himself triumphing in a "battle of the bands" against his idol, bandleader Earl Hines in 1935. Epstein recreates the music and atmosphere of Chicago's golden age of jazz with sparkling detail in sentences that flow like Cole's piano riffs. He follows Cole close-up through two marriages and endless career challenges as he forms the first jazz trio and rises to fame, against all odds, to become the first black to have his own radio show, his own network T.V. show. And from the first scenes to the last, where 45-year old Cole is dying of cancer, caught between his loyalty to his wife Maria and his passion for his 20-year-old Swedish mistress, the narrative pace never lets up. Cole was an American hero of epic proportions. In capturing his amazing life in words Epstein proves himself a master storyteller.
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Format: Hardcover
From the moment I stumbled upon this book in the Library and read a few chapters, I was mesmorized by the detail captured in my uncles life. I think that when I started reading the book I was doing so with a curious and critical intent to see just how close the author would be to describing the realities of my grandfathers household. Moreso, the atmospher in which my father and his brothers and sister grew-up.
Needless to say, this book was an awakening for me. Over the past 10 years I have been trying to gather information on Nat's begining, but talking to my dad (IKE) and my uncle (Freddy), whom both are younger than Nat, the details have been very sketchy to say the least.
I am very impressed with the flow of the book, more especially with the authors ability to add glamor, excitment and reality where needed.
There were a couple of places where facts were miss-stated, but overall GOOD JOB!
Lawrence Coles
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found this book to be revealing and enlightening about one of my favorite singers. Nat King Cole had a voice like no other before or since. With his calm demeanor you'd never think that he endured so much hell in his life. No wonder he smoked as much as he did. This book is one of the best I've ever read about the life of Nat Cole, but like some of the previous reviewers, I found little errors, too. I also felt that it had a strong sympathetic bent towards Nat's widow Maria, as if she were the heroine of the story. That isn't any wonder; this book was written in full cooperation with the Cole family, so I'm sure Mrs. Cole would have had to come out of it looking good, or she wouldn't have cooperated. Also Epstein says that shortly before Cole died, that he and his wife reconciled after Nat's torrid love affair with a twenty year old chorus girl. According to many other sources, though, they never did reconcile their differences. But this is what Maria Cole wanted people to believe. But still this book is very interesting. It reads like a juicy novel, but it's better, because it's a true story. It's engaging and will definitely hold your attention. You will feel like you knew the man personally. For anyone who loves Nat and his music, this book is a must.
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Format: Hardcover
I finally got around to reading Nat King Cole, and like the previous reviewer, I, too, caught a few mistakes such as the one about Elvis. At least Mr. Epstein did have the family's approval to write this book, and to be interviewed by him as well. Like most baby boomers, I grew up listening to NKC's music but never really knew much about the man other than the fact that his wife's name is Maria, his daughter is Natalie Cole & that he died of lung cancer at age 45. This book enlightens us on Nat King Cole not just as a singer and musician but as a man. I really felt for the Cole family when they were subjected to prejudice while moving into their home in Hancock Park. I also felt anger while reading of how a group of radicals attacked NKC while performing onstage in Alabama, planning to kidnap him. Mr. Epstein also periodically mentions the warnings about cigarette smoking throughout the book, as it is heavy smoking(several packs a day)that eventually killed NKC. The book is still highly recommended for all fans of one of the greatest singers of romance, bar none.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book very much. I got into Nat King Cole's music when I was in my mid-teens (late '70s-early '80s) because I am a fan of Natalie's as well...There was a lot of info in the book that I did not know, so it was very enlightening to read something so detailed about Nat's life. He was not portrayed as a saint or a martyr, but merely as a man who had his faults, just like any other man. And you still end up liking him. I gave it four stars because I had problems with how Epstein interpreted several of Nat's songs, which I think had more to do with his personal opinion of them than what they actually meant (re: the "Nature Boy" and "Straighten Up and Fly Right" stories), and little errors that should have been caught during the final edit (like the one about "Capitol Records, the home of Elvis Presley" - hello, ELVIS NEVER RECORDED FOR CAPITOL). But for the most part, this book lets you get to know Nat Cole as he really was...Highly recommended.
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